Friday, May 6, 2011

Extended Lifespans Are a Design Problem

Here's a great HBR Ideacast with Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Civic Ventures and author of The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife, that's well worth the 13 minutes it takes to listen to it. A lot of thought-provoking points are raised, but here's the one that really got me thinking:

So much of our society and culture is built around the idea that people live roughly to about 70. Get your education while you're young, build a successful and progressively impactful career, retire, and relax for your few remaining golden years. As lifespans continue to grow (more than 50% of children born today will live to see their 100th birthday) how should this life progression be redesigned so those twenty and someday thirty or forty years in retirement don't become a "balloon payment of disengagement?"

Here's an idea: No more front-loading education.

We already know that education needs to go on throughout life. So why do we spend so much time and money while we're in our teens and twenties to build up so much of it? As life spans get longer and people seek to reinvent themselves multiple times to stay engaged and impactful, what about a structure that allows people to get degrees in multiple areas, not one right after the other, but at ten-year intervals? Existing pressures associated with developing a career, raising a family and saving for retirement make going back to school a risky endeavor during midlife. But what if instead of viewing life as a single circuit we viewed it as multiple circuits, each loop requiring periods of exploration, concentrated study, growing responsibility, leadership, and returning wisdom back to the community? How would we need to redesign our cultures of higher education, family, success, and investments to make that possible? And how richer would we and our society be if we did?

At one point in the Ideacast, Freedman talks about how Baby Boomers are the first generation to face the challenges associated with active living beyond the traditional retirement age, but of course they won't be the last. As the first, however, the Boomers find themselves in the position to set some precedents and define some parameters. In redefining what it means to be retired I think they are doing some great things for Xers and the generations that follow, but they are obviously approaching the problem from the perspective of the newly retired. It will probably be up to the younger generations to redefine the problem around the entirety of our lifespans.

Image source


Post a Comment